A couple of months ago I bought a Groupon for classes at the stable down the road from mine with the idea of giving Starbuck and I some new experiences and perspectives on our progress. I've been busy getting my Spanish driver's licence (yep, I even had to take lessons all over again) so I didn't start right away, but I finally passed my driving test and as a reward called up to see when I could have my first lesson. So this past Sunday at 10:45 a.m. Starbuck and I set out for Club Hípico Sa Fita with butterflies in our stomachs and determination in our hearts for our first ever time riding at another stable.
I had a hangover, having had dinner at a friend's house where liberal amounts of amaretto were ingested with dessert, and had only slept about 5 hours (the irresponsability of this didn't occur to me until the morning after) and on top of everything it was even more blustery than usual, with enough wind to have to hold the numnah on her back until I got the saddle on top. So I was really skeptical of how things would go. But of course as my dad has commented more than once, when I have relaxed expectations often Starbuck performs much better than I expect her to, and this occasion was no exception.
On the walk over (it's about a third of a mile) she gave a little spook at some styrofoam panels the neighbors had put up to reinforce their fencing (classy!) which were creaking in the wind, and the last 300 yards were a little stop-snort-start-y. Aside from that she behaved really well, with very little prancing and no rearing or other craziness, walking through puddles and giving the bikes, cars and roadside goats, chickens and dogs little more than a passing glance.
I used the rope halter and short longe line to lead her over, so when we got to the stable (right on time!) I took advantage of that to longe her a little bit in their arena, especially by the places she seemed worried about. After about five minutes or so of that, I switched out the halter for her bridle, mounted up and started exploring their ring. It's maybe 50 x 35 meters or a little less and has lots of brightly painted, interesting obstacles set up in different formations - there are some basic "traditional" jumps, some plastic traffic barriers, cavaletti stands, painted panels to keep the horse from dodging a jump sideways, some plastic "water obstacles", traffic cones... you get the picture. There's also a big puddle in one corner thanks to the recent rains, and in the other corner right outside the arena there's a little wooden gazebo type thing with coke and snack machines, which makes creaking and cracking noises. There's also a kind of warehouse on the far side of the arena where people load things into trucks noisily and then drive the trucks off. She was a little jumpy with both the gazebo as well as with the trucks, but seemed to realize that we were there to work and got right into it.
My instructor is a young guy - maybe 20 years old - named Toni who obviously has lots of experience jumping but gave a few "quick fix" suggestions which raised some red flags for me - like using side reins while jumping so Starbuck would be more collected. But he ended up giving me some really great advice about my posture and specifically about improving my release of the reins when Starbuck moves her head forward to jump, as well as pointing out that I could praise her more often. And he gave me lots of compliments on how well muscled Starbuck is for her age, and how well behaved, etc... so of course I ended up absolutely loving him. After a few minutes of walk and trot weaving in and out of the obstacles and getting closer and closer to the scary stuff, we did a couple of laps in canter to warm up and started jumping. We started with a little cross-rails obstacle which he quickly changed to a vertical and then we just started going up and up... after 6 or 7 jumps to the left I could tell Starbuck was starting to get worn out (and me too!) and asked him if we could change to the other direction.
So we turned around, lowered the jump again, and did the same thing heading right. At one point when it was pretty high, she struck the bars with her hind legs. On the second try, she struck again but we just made the circle again with a little more energy, went into the jump superstraight and jumped the same height again and she cleared it nicely. Since she had done so well and I wanted to make it very clear that she had done the right thing by giving her the best reward I can think of (stopping work), I told him that as far as I was concerned we were good to go on the jumping. "OK", he said, "by the way, do you know how high that is?" It was 95 centimeters - in other words three feet! I'm fairly sure we've never jumped that high before, and it wasn't even a big deal until I knew about it. So I gave Starbuck lots of scratching on her withers and neck which she loves since she's so itchy, cooled down and walked her back home with the biggest smile on my face in years.
I'm going to cut this off soon since I could probably keep writing about it for ages with how elated I am at this demonstration of our progress, but I just want to add a note that on Monday we had another lesson which is where the videos are from - she was obviously a little tired and we ended up hesitating a little before some of the jumps which we'll have to work on, but we did a course of 6 jumps at 80 cm height, twice! The videos are from the end of the lesson when my friends Virginia and Belén came by to give us their support. And to cool down we went for a walk in a huge field they have behind their stable with no other horses, and aside from a spook when a partridge burst out of the brush like 6 feet away from us she was very calm and centered. It really felt like she was looking to me for reassurance that this was all OK, and getting it.
What a good little mare I have!